Monday, 20 December 2010


My new review of Protege at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Jungle Heat


Directed by: Jobic Wong
Screenplay: Jobic Wong, Bobby Ming
Starring: Sam Jones, Christopher Doyle, Bobby Ming

Wow, just wow! That's all that can be said really. One hasn't experienced violent, nasty, barmy, insane, incoherent and often hilarious action exploitation trash until one has sat through Jungle Heat.

All the things that are wrong, disturbing, nasty, don't make sense and are outright weird about Jungle Heat:

- an incredibly strange and cruel form of torture performed on some captured soldiers involving a rat being set on fire and running round setting the tied up captives on fire why onlookers take bets to see you will last the longest.

- said rat in the scene above appears to be real (at least in the first part of the scene) meaning a real rat was actually set on fire: yep, nasty animal cruelty here folks.

- the main character(s) seem to chop and change at will meaning it's never clear who is who, which group of soldiers we are following, and the who the hell anybody is come the violent finale.

- one of said main character's mustache disappears and reappears between scenes to hilarious effect and is quite simply brilliant.

- the above mentioned rat on fire scene isn't actually the most horrific scene in the movie: that would be the scene where a captive buried in the ground up to his neck has his head shaved, then sliced opened only to have acid poured into the cut which then bizarrely melts his whole body and allows him to break free: this scene really has to be seen to be believed. See Here to believe.

- several out-of-nowhere sequences of the soldiers completely forgetting about their mission to take part in some kind of insane motorcycle stunt game to raise money (for what, I really don't know).

- an insanely gory action packed finale which features a poor guy having his stomach sawed open in graphic detail, another poor dude being subjected to some kind of water torture which grossly inflates his stomach and a rather memorable beheading which manages to be both shocking and hilarious at the same time.

- one of the main characters (at least I think he was) graphically tearing the skin from his hands in order to escape (or something).

- that after about an hour or so of complete madness, the film virtually stops for some female character to get all dramatic in a long monologue about wanting a better life (or something).

- that Sam (Flash Gordon) Jones is somehow in this film but does absolutely nothing (except for some bizarre soldier training methods involving driving jeeps nowhere - and this scene going on for ages), takes part in hardly any of the mission action and looks even more bemused than us viewers.

- that the film starts off quite innocently and boring before switching to complete weirdness and nastiness around the 30 minute mark.

- that not at any time during the film, anything makes any sense at all, ever.

All the things that are AWESOME about Jungle Heat:

- see all of the above.

Seriously, Jungle Heat is a true what-the-fuck experience and Philippine shot action exploitation at its strangest and nastiest and therefore, best. Words can't describe it. It's recommended you watch it on a Sunday morning after several nights with little sleep and after watching many similar trashy but nowhere near as gross and insane films (like I did). There is a cool bit of action towards the end but that isn't what Jungle Heat is gonna be remembered for and it also features quite possibly the best drunken and drugged up bar fights of any action film. And by that I mean they are shit, weird, make no sense and feature some drugged up dude dancing and picking fights for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Other than that it is awesome.


Hunt to Kill


Directed by: Keoni Waxman
Written by: Frank Hannah
Starring: Steve Austin, Gill Bellows, Gary Daniels & Eric Roberts

Steve Austin makes for a pretty good action star. He's built like a Sherman tank, says few words and is skillful in the fight and action department. He had impressive turns in big action films The Condemned and The Expendables but his straight-to-DVD starring vehicles haven't always delivered, Hunt To Kill being one of them. To be fair Damage wasn't bad as it spent some time crafting character but was somewhat a let down in the fight department. Hunt to Kill is the other way round the action (when it arrives) being decent but everything else sub par.

Austin is your typical former Texas Ranger type now living out in the woods of Montana as an expert woodsman. Through all kinds of plot absurdity he has to guide Gil Bellows and his bunch of very inept cronies through the forest to find some dude who has run off with their money from a recent heist. The gang also kidnap Austin's daughter for good measure which means come the last half hour he has to use all his Ranger and wilderness skills to hunt down and kill the ridiculous assortment of bad guys.

Pretty decent, if formulaic, set up that provides some nice location work and photography and come the final stretch of the film a decent bit of hunt and fight action. Unfortunately everything else is just kind of blah and all tension and excitement is undone by your typical useless movie villains. We are supposed to believe they are some bad ass bank robbing criminals but really they are just a gang of annoying douche bags. Gil Bellows comes off worst as the least convincing main bad guy seen in an action movie in a while: instead of menacing and a force to be reckoned with he's just whiny, annoying, seriously overacting when there is no call for it and, as mentioned, a douche. Maybe he was going for a piss take of the typical over-the-top main villain (and judging by how many times he has to be killed in the end fight, this might confirm this approach) but the film seems to be more concerned with cliches and everyone trying to "out douche" one another rather than any kind of subtle dig at action movie sterotypes

To be fair Gary Daniels does well in his supporting bad guy role (and should have been the main villain), actually coming off as a threat as does Emillie Ullerup as the glammed up bad girl. There are hints that her character doesn't quite agree with what her gang of so called criminals are doing, almost forming a bond with the kidnapped girl, but all this seems to have been jettisoned in favour of more "look how hilariously evil these bad guys are" scenes. Daniels, thankfully, gets a cool fight scene with Austin (the highlight of the flick) and Austin himself is as solid as usual, now adept at the quiet but strong action hero.

There are a few other OK action bits but with a neat set up and half the cast of The Expendables reuniting (Eric Roberts is in and out of the flick before the opening credits roll!), Hunt to Kill could have been much more than it unfortunately is. And the less said about the bit with the ATV, the better!

Friday, 10 December 2010

True Legend


Directed by: Yuen Woo Ping
Screenplay: Chi Long To
Starring: Man Cheuk Chiu, Xun Zhou, Andy On, Michelle Yeoh & David Carradine

Martial Arts Maestro Yuen Woo Ping returns to the directors chair after a long hiatus, where he's been busy choreographing other people's films (The Matrix, Unleashed, The Forbidden Kingdom, Fearless), to helm his own period set kung fu flick. A welcome return it is, as however uneven True Legend is in the narrative and pacing departments, there is no doubting Yuen Woo Ping has crafted an exciting, action soaked epic that harks back to the heyday of the late 80s and early 90s of Hong Kong cinema.

A historical set actioner with a comic book spin, True Legend is set in the Qing Dynasty and sees brave and honoured General Su Qi-Er (Man Cheuk Chiu) give up his life of war and fighting to live in peace with his beloved family and hopefully one day open his own school of martial arts. Such dreams of a quiet life are destroyed when Su's twisted half brother Yuan Lie (Andy On) attacks Su, leaving him and his wife for dead and kidnaps Su's young son. Broken but not beaten, Su with the help of his kindly wife (Xun Zhou) and a mysterious witch like doctor (Michelle Yeoh), re-trains himself in the fighting arts and goes gunning for vengeance. However, Su's life will take an even more dramatic turn leaving him as a wandering beggar who through his affection for drinking wine and with the support of his ever faithful son sees him perfecting the art known as Drunken Boxing and competing in vicious fight tournaments.

True Legend may split fans of martial arts cinema down the middle with it's often free wheeling tone and frequent use of CGI, but Yuen Woo Ping certainly delivers a film packed with some of the very best fight action Hong Kong has to offer. Care has gone in crafting a unique look and setting for the film, the Qing Dynasty recreated in vivid form and Ping's film always looks magnificent. The film is essentially split into two parts: Su's betrayal by his brother and subsequent training and revenge and Su's time spent wandering the land drunk following his taken revenge and perfecting the drunken boxing style. Both sections cram in quite a lot meaning the pace can be lightening quick. Despite a few welcome touching moments in between all the epic fight action (Su and his wife sitting upon some mist shrouded rocks longing for their kidnapped son) there isn't always a lot of down time in between all the fighting and training. No bad thing really as the often overwrought melodrama that plagues kung fu cinema is played down here meaning we get a more straightforward adventure film. Any shortcomings brought on by narrative jumps are made up for by Man Cheuk Chiu's energetic and committed performance as Su. Long absent from the world of feature films (having been stuck in TV fantasy melodrama's for the past ten years) Man Cheuk Chiu makes a blistering return to the big screen, embodying Su with a likability and determination for a character who isn't always the most sympathetic.

It also helps that he is a gifted, and underrated, screen fighter (check out Tsui Hark's quite simply awesome The Blade and the somewhat under-appreciated The Black Sheep Affair for further proof). Taking part in almost all of the fight and training scenes, Man Cheuk Chiu's skill is put to good use in a surfeit of wickedly staged fight scenes. He gets skillful fight support from the likes of Jay Chou (playing the gravity defying God of Wushu who helps to train Su) and Andy On, meaning there is a welcome pick of gifted fighters for Man Cheuk Chiu to fight against (also look out for Bangkok Adrenaline's Conan Stevens and Pit Fighter's Dominiquie Vandenberg as two of the Russian wrestlers Su has to fight in the finale). Ping and his team certainly make sure True Legend is crammed to the gills with fight action. Being somewhat based in fantasy, wire-work is used often to heighten the fluidity and scope of the fights and the God of Wushu training scenes are heightened with (rather too much) CGI (it not always convincing either). But at it's core the fight action is screen fighters getting to cut loose is some very full on fight scenes. Evoking the style of period set martial arts flicks from the early 1990's (Burning Paradise, Fong Sai Yuk, A Chinese Ghost Story) the fighting action is big in scope and top notch. The second, epic, battle between Su and Yuan is an amazing piece of martial arts action that is almost topped by the brutal brawl Su has between five Russian fighters in the tournament battle finale.

Some may not get past the use of CGI, the rapid pace and some characters and stylings that seem out of place on occasion (also Michelle Yeoh's, David Carradine's and Gordon Liu's parts are nothing more than glorified cameos) but on the whole True Legend is wickedly entertaining and a big, loud and proud fight film. The action and martial arts wizardry rarely lets up and Yuen Woo Ping wraps everything up in such a grand style entertaining fashion that the film's shortcomings are far outweighed by all its bonuses. Tremendous fight action and a bad guy who has armour literally sewn into his skin (bad ass!) makes True Legend a welcome and worthy martial arts spectacle.

The Sweeper


Directed by: Joseph Merhi
Story by: Jacobsen Hart
Screenplay by: William Applegate Jr. & Karen McCoy
Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Ed Lauter, Kristen Dalton & Jeff Fahey

The Sweeper is an entertaining action thriller from the PM Entertainment Group. Though not quite as good as say Rage or Recoil, The Sweeper is a decent little flick featuring some excellent action sequences.

Mark Goddard (Howell) is a tough renegade cop who displays brutal and unconventional ways of catching bad guys. Scarred by the death of his father (Fahey) he is determined to clean up the streets. Noticing his unique abilities, Molls (Lauter) recruits Goddard to be part of a secret police force called “Justice Incorporated.” Known as “Sweepers”, these police officers use any method necessary to take down the worst of the worst. Working alongside fellow Sweeper, Rachel (Dalton), Goddard soon finds himself up to his neck in death and destruction with the line between cop and killer becoming more and more blurred.

Having seen the trailer years ago I’d wanted to see The Sweeper for some time, as it looked like one giant action juggernaut of a movie. However, upon viewing I found the film to be a more well-rounded thriller rather than just a succession of crashes and explosions. Goddard’s back story (featured in an opening prologue set in the 70’s and showing his family being slaughtered) explains what a troubled, difficult and violent young man he has become. From this, it would have been easy for the filmmakers to make just another revenge story. There is a great scene where the young Goddard (Max Slade) is witness to his parents’ slaying and then tormented by one of the killers. It is a tense scene that sets the tone and shows director Joseph Merhi (Executive Target) working at something different, rather than throwing in another car chase. Howell’s early scenes with his estranged wife and son are also nicely played and provide an emotional balance to all the action.

Things do fray slightly come the second half of the film. The plot gets a bit convoluted with a conveyor belt of cliched tough guys being ushered in, clogging up the proceedings with typical bad guy swagger. Ed Lauter (Raw Deal) is on good form as the not so saintly Molls, but is perhaps a little underused. Kristen Dalton (They Nest) provides fiery heat as the gun-toting Rachel and it’s good to see a gal being as tough as the guys. Hitcher boy Howell is on pretty good form, this being one of his better films, but does tend to overact in some scenes.

Which brings us to the action. Like many of PM’s mid-nineties output, The Sweeper features some dazzling stunts and action on what must have been a relatively slim budget. Eschewing CGI, all the stunts are done for real, giving the film a refreshing back to basics feel. The opening chase is a doozy; there are a couple of excellent shoot-outs; and despite being as barmy as hell, the final freeway chase (featuring, among other things, a biplane) is so thrillingly staged you won’t mind how completely over the top ridiculous it is. However, the best is an exciting roof top chase on foot that wouldn’t look out of place in a big budget action fest. Once again, action-meister Spiro Razatos is the man behind the thrills and spills.

What stops the film from being all round solid entertainment is a bad case of continuity. The Sweeper features some jarring continuity jumps that almost spoil the action on screen. The worst example is when a gunfight cum chase taking place during the day all of a sudden switches to a car chase at night. Either something has been cut out or they could only film the car chase at night but whatever the case, it is a glaring mistake that ultimately mars the film.

Overall though, The Sweeper is a perfectly solid action film that for most part manages an entertaining balance between drama and some insane action.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Detective Story

My new review of Detective Story at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Cinema and Empire

Japan Society are proud to announce the next film program in conjunction with Monthly Classics series: SHADOWS OF THE RISING SUN: Cinema and Empire.

This winter, a new Japan Society film series tells the multifaceted story of Japan’s quest for Empire and its tragic downfall, as seen through the eyes of filmmakers from Japan and China.

In four epoch-making titles, Shadows of the Rising Sun explores the conflagration and its dreadful consequences: the feature films presented, from Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 arch-classic Fires on the Plain to Koji Wakamatsu’s recent and controversial shocker Caterpillar (which earned main actress Shinobu Terajima the 2010 Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival), go to the confines of history and truth, beyond the bright madness of battle and heroism, into the metaphysical realm of death, evil, sacrifice and the sublime.

Fires on the Plain at 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 10
Caterpillar at 7:00 p.m. Saturday, December 11 (New York Premiere)
Devils on the Doorstep at 4:00 p.m. Sunday, December 12
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence at 7:00 p.m. Sunday, December 12

Experience these four exceptional films during a one-weekend only event.

2010-2011 Monthly Classics Trailer

Monday, 29 November 2010

14 Blades

14 BLADES (2010)

Directed by: Daniel Lee
Written by: Daniel Lee, Abe Kwong
Starring: Donnie Yen, Zhao Wei, Chun Wu Kate Tsui, Yuwu Qui, Sammo Hung

Donnie Yen continues his domination of big budget Hong Kong action cinema with the visually stunning and action packed period piece, 14 Blades. Yen has been on a good run for some time now with hits like SPL, Flashpoint, Ip Man 1 & 2 and Bodyguards and Assassins cementing him as the number one star of Eastern martial arts cinema. 14 Blades seems to be continuing this run and is a welcome throwback to wuxia films of the 80s and 90s and a thoroughly satisfying martial arts film.

Yen is Green Dragon, one of the top agents in the Jin Yi Wei, a group of bad ass fighters and swordsmen who protect the Emperor and uphold peace in his land. Green Dragon wields the "14 blades" a case he carries with him containing 14 different blades each with a different purpose. Sent on a secret mission by the Emperor, Green Dragon is set up and left for dead by his own men. On the run and hunted by those he once trusted, Green Dragon has to reassess his loyalties and plots revenge with the help of a lovely lady and a band of crossbow wielding desert pirates.

From style, to action, to fantasy, 14 Blades is a delight for martial arts fans. As the plot unfolds and characters double-cross one another and challenge each other to fights, proceedings may not surprise in any narrative way but the film harks back to the golden age of these types of films: suitably nasty bad guys with dastardly powers that make them deadly in a fight, a blossoming romance, great locations, a wronged hero out to right himself and lots and lots of fantasy styled action. Director Daniel Lee (Three Kingdoms) creates a visually arresting, almost gothic like, setting playing to the fantasy elements of the film but keeps enough grit in to give the characters and fights a tough edge. Yen carries the film, playing a quieter more restrained hero for a change, not as indestructible as he is in many of his other films. In fact, he takes quite a pasting in the various scenes of kung fu combat.

The fight scenes are big and full of flight-of-fancy moves, techniques and magic. This being a somewhat fantasy styled action pic, the wuxia element is played up meaning characters can glide through the air, pull off impossible moves and surroundings are almost always destroyed in some way when two characters fight. This means we don't get quite as much one-on-one hard hitting fight action but the spectacle is certainly well handled and Yen once again shows how versatile he can be in the action department.

Unfortunately, ropey CGI does rear its ugly head one-two many times but it's nothing that can't be lived with. Lee tries to perhaps cram in too many characters, the somewhat fast pace not always allowing them to register on screen and Sammo Hung's cameo is all but a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance. Yet, at the end of day, 14 Blades is still quality fantasy themed martial arts cinema. While Yen seems to be making a fair share of period styled films of late (be great to see him back in a modern day cop actioner like Flashpoint again soon), 14 Blades is one of his most enjoyable: it looks great, it moves at a fair lick and is filled with excellent action scenes.

Monday, 22 November 2010


My new review of Mother at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010



Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Mark Bomback
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine & Rosario Dawson

Simple storytelling: sometimes that is the best ingredient for making an entertaining film. While many bang on and on (and on) about "thin" plot this and "simple" story that, a film which is straightforward in its intentions, has characters we can root for and is unfussy in its approach to just telling its story can be just what us viewers need to be entertained as much as any complex, character driven film. That's the beauty of Unstoppable: a simple, straightforward story told well and excitingly. Not to say its characters are under nourished as they are perfectly drawn and interesting for this film but they don't get in the way of what Unstoppable is all about: a runaway train.

There is a runaway train tearing through the American mid west, loaded with dangerous toxins, and a couple of blue collar workers (Washington and Pine) are the two would be heroes who give it a shot at trying to stop it before it kills hundreds of people. They encounter opposition from various and nefarious bureaucratic types who want to avoid an "incident" but form an alliance with plucky track controller Rosario Dawson who keeps them up to date over the radio with what's going on and helps conceive of ideas of how to stop the rampaging juggernaut. From there on in it's daring and stunt filled attempts to stop the train, all delivered in Tony Scott's adrenaline rush style of cinema.

Unstoppable is an entertaining ride and harks back to the simpler days of blockbusting action cinema. We have heroes to root for, the set-pieces are big but done with real stunts and while the outcome is never in doubt, it's still a fun ride getting there. While events can't stop from slipping into cheesy predictability on occasion, Scott keeps everything rocketing along at such a fun pace he delivers exactly what this film is about, and needs to be about: a runaway train. The action, destruction and set-pieces are big and loud and are put together with charge and ferocity. Scott also mercifully forgoes the CGI root hardly using it at all, much of the big action staged for real making it much more exciting. Crashes, smashes, derailments and some very dangerous stunts making for an action saturated good time.

The two leads are on solid form playing their predictable heroes well and at least have good chemistry. Rosairo Dawson is on even finer form (and looking mighty fine) infusing her character with much needed spark and personality as she spends a good deal of the film talking over the radio with the two train bound leads. So all-in-all a rip roaring good time that makes simplicity work in its favour for some runaway train, stunt filled good times. Scott can't quite help but rely a little too much on the rapid camerawork and editing but certainly gets the adrenaline pumping which is what any good disaster film should do: especially one about a runaway train smashing through small town America

Born To Raise Hell


Directed by: Lauro Chartrand
Written by: Steven Seagal
Starring: Steven Seagal, Darren Shahlavi, Dan Badarau

Reviewing new direct-to-DVD Steven Seagal films is now a cut and paste job. They are becoming less indistinguishable, Seagal playing pretty much the same character (himself!) in every flick as some sort of cop/federal agent/former special forces dude, who has to rescue someone (his daughter/his wife/his friends daughter) usually in Eastern Europe somewhere all punctuated by some decent if hardly ground breaking shootouts and fight scenes. While I enjoyed his last few recent efforts (The Keeper, A Dangerous Man), as they were at least a little better produced with solid action, Born to Raise Hell is a step back once again.

Ugly, predictable, ludicrous and to be honest, often dull Born to Raise Hell packs a punch in a few ok action scenes but it's all just run-of-the-mill Seagal dubbed and doubled nonsense. He's out to avenge the death of his cop buddy (ok, so it's not his wife or daughter this time) which leads to a rather anti-climactic fight with Darren Shahlavi. Yep, even poor old Darren is wasted in this. Despite being a proven action actor and fighter (Bloodmoon, Ip Man 2) he gets a thankless bad guy role and a fight with Seagal which lasts all of a minute and a half and is completely one sided favouring Seagal. Mr Shahlavi could have at least been allowed to get a few kicks and hits in to make the fight more worthwhile.

Maybe Seagal is just tired of churning out these low rent action flicks and should just retire. But I guess when there is still money to make, then why not churn out a couple more? It's just a pity the opportunity to be entertaining and another action star's talents are wasted in the process. Maybe Seagal just bought a bunch of action movie titles (from Today You Die to Driven to Kill) and is contractually obligated to make them (though I'm still no sure how anyone thought Belly of the Beast makes for a cool action movie title!). Some have been entertaining (like Pistol Whipped and the aforementioned A Dangerous Man) but Born to Raise Hell (a title which promises much action fun) is just a lazy mess.

Street Asylum


Directed by: Gregory Dark
Written by: John Powers & Gregory Dark
Starring: Wings Hauser, G. Gordon Liddy, Sy Richardson, Alex Cord, Roberta Vazquez & Brion James

Wings Hauser made some mad films. Vice Squad, Nightmare at Noon and The Art of Dying all push the boundaries of taste, absurdness and over-the-top action. But perhaps the maddest film he made (though don't hold me to it, as I've yet to see all his films: something I'm sure I will accomplish at some point!) was Street Asylum. It's not just mad but deranged, sleazy, disturbing and just outright weird. Directed and co-written by one time porn director and king of the 1990s softcore thriller craze Gregory Dark (Secret Games 3, Animal Instincts), Street Asylum takes a walk on the wild and dark side of Los Angeles as Hauser's grizzled cop trawls through the underbelly of LA. But while the film certainly delves into the dirty areas of LA and its characters minds, the makers also throw in a sci-fi twist with Hauser joining an elite squad of cops who have been implanted with some kind of special microchip which sends them into fits of violent rage and unrelenting lust. Yep, this film is pretty mad.

So with Hauser and his various cop partners all micro-chipped up, we go on a wild ride through the seedy streets of LA as no fetish or sexual deviation is left untouched. Inncoent people are gunned down in ultra violent fashion; one of Hauser's partners (Sy Richardson) continuously giggles like a school girl and attempts to hump everything in sight; some rather convincing, grubby and disturbing video footage opens the film showing people being killed and hurt in horrible ways; Hauser bangs a prostitute in a dirty alleyway as his enraged lust takes over; and with so much more weirdness and wrongness going on I need to go and take a shower just thinking about it.

Not really a cop film, not in the traditional sense anyway, and not much of a sci-fi film either despite the brain controlling plot device, one thing Street Asylum certainly is, is a pure exploitation flick. The film often hits hard in delivering seedy scene after seedy scene and it certainly achieves a manic energy that makes one keep watching no matter how crazy and weird things get. There is also a couple of groovy action scenes thrown in as well including an impressive scene where a stunt man it attached to the back of a speeding car by a rope to his foot and flung all over the LA streets in a high speed pursuit. Pretty cool stunt and just as bonkers as everything else is this movie.

Street Asylum is a weird film that could only have come from the late 80s/early 90s that probably had intentions of showing us viewers how fucked up the world and it's people are but will be more remembered for the complete looniness of many of its scenes. Still, despite the bonkers premise and the over-the-top exploitation, Street Asylum still disturbs on some level and, again, proves that Wings Hauser made some mad, mad films.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Axis of War: Night Raid

My new review of Axis of War: Night Raid at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Quote on the cover of Charlie Valentine DVD cover...

A snippet from my Cool Target review of the Jesse Johnson action film Charlie Valentine has made it onto the front cover of the Region 2 DVD release from High Fliers:

"Violent Action...Definitely Bloody." COOLTARGET.COM

My second DVD cover and the first time Cool Target has been quoted on a DVD release cover. Wahoo:)

Charlie Valentine Review

Monday, 25 October 2010

S.I.S: Special Investigation Section


Written & Directed by: John Herzfeld
Starring: Matt Nable, Peter Stebbings, Omari Hardwick, Colleen Porch & Keith David

Surprisingly good and taut police thriller that pulls no punches in its action scenes and is strengthened by its strong characters and gripping narrative. Originally made for TV and presumably as a pilot for a TV cop show that didn't get picked up, SIS is a short and sharp blast of cop thriller antics that embraces it's pulpy roots but gives us real and interesting characters to root for.

Treading similar ground as the Mark L. Lester film from the early 90s, SIS: Extreme Justice, John Herzfeld's film deals with the exploits of a splinter police force who target and go after extremely dangerous and violent criminals, attempting to catch them in the act of committing a crime and dealing with them by any, violent, means necessary. So we get an eclectic array of police officers attempting to balance normal life with their police life, a new recruit who is walking his own fine line of sanity and some particularly nasty bad guys our team is attempting to shut down.

It's Herzfeld's (who also made the very underrated 15 Minutes and The Death and Life of Bobby Z) tight script and direction that makes SIS so entertaining. It may have it's fair share of pulpy incidents but pulp, to this viewer at least, if quite often what makes cop films/thrillers so entertaining. Herzfeld always makes his characters seem real no matter how violent and over-the-top proceedings might get, the main cast having real personalities rather than being typical stereotypes. After too many cop shows featuring know-it-all characters and impeccably dressed leads, it's nice to see movie cops being tough, gruff and a little scruffy again.

Much like he did with 15 Minutes and Bobby Z, Herzfeld keeps everything tight and taught, the momentum always sustained and offers up some bad guys who actually feel like a violent threat to our heroes. The flick is also peppered with some slick action including the opening shootout and tensely mounted finale which sees the cops thwarting the bad guys latest robbery. There is also an incredibly tense shootout in a house about half way through that also shows Herzfeld can keep action just as taut as his characters and direction.

While the millions of cop shows that clog up TV and sell truck loads of box sets will for the foreseeable future be seen as the benchmark in cop thrillers, SIS is a welcome down to earth and character based police story with a nice side order of fierce action.

Chanbara Striptease

My new review of Chanbara Striptease at Far East Films (

Monday, 11 October 2010

Caught in the Crossfire


Written & Directed by: Brain A. Miller
Starring: Chris Klein, Adam Rodriguez, 50 Cent

Ho hum cop thriller about a couple of cops (Klein and Rodriguez) investigating what at first appears to be a random slaying of a gang member but as they dig deeper and find themselves under investigation soon becomes much more as the stink of a set-up from within the police force soon becomes a realization. While the film has good intentions, is professionally made and has no pretensions of being a complex, labyrinth like cop drama, Caught in the Crossfire just lacks oomph.

Despite a decent twist come the end and tense action that opens and closes the film, Caught in the Crossfire spends too much time treading the cop cliches as characters shout and shout and shout some more at each other. It all gets a bit tiresome everybody seemingly trying to out 'grit' one other as tough cops, burnt out cops, and corrupt cops. The makers seem to have pushed the whole idea of making it as gritty as possible too far, making proceeding somewhat unintentionally funny on occasion. Not least lead guy Chris Klein who unfortunately overacts his burnt out cop so much that when he tells his partner to "cowboy up" all hope of grit and seriousness are thrown out the window. Much of the film is also set in interrogation rooms and told in flashback which unfortunately dilutes a lot of the tension, one wishing the characters would get out and do more.

Still, despite it's flaws, Caught in the Crossfire is not all bad. It might be a tad predictable but Rodriguez (from CSI: Miami) is effective as the other cop trying to figure out what is going on and surprisingly 50 Cent isn't that bad in what amounts to a glorified cameo. There is a professional sheen to the production and the flick is bookended by a couple of impressively tense shootouts. If the rest of the film had been as engaging as it's opening and closing, then Caught in the Crossfire could have been a much more exciting and edgy ride. As it is, it's an ok police thriller if you are in need of a cop movie fix.

Wrong Side of Town


Directed by: David DeFalco
Screenplay: David DeFalco & Marquito Sanchez
Starring: Rob Van Dam, Dave Batista, Jerry Katz

Yet more wrestling stars turn their trade to starring in action movies, this time Rob Van Dam and Dave Bautista throwing fists and body slamming people in the distinctly low rent but not completely unenjoyable, Wrong Side of Town. Rob Van Dam and his wife have gone out for a meal and a night on the town with their new neighbors. Unfortunately things don't well and Van Dam accidentally kills a guy who attacks his wife. Said guy just happens to be the brother of a local and vicious crime boss who sends out his goons to hunt down and kill Van Dam and his friends. So, run-of-the-mill chases and fisticuffs ensue.

Predictable and very low budget, Wrong Side of Town is harmless trash featuring a couple of likable wrestlers kicking the crap out of bad guys. While it's nowhere near as polished as the likes of The Marine, The Condemned or Walking Tall (other action films featuring wrestlers), the makers do their best and maximize the city of Baton Rouge to its best. Unfortunately proceedings drag somewhat, the flick not as packed with action as you might expect. And I'm afraid for a low rent movie like this your action is the main selling point. Things tend to drag a bit, the film never being the exciting, dangerous chase through a night time city it should be. The final twenty minutes manages a sudden burst of fight action, nicely choreographed and packed with punch. There just should have been more of it.

The acting is about what you would expect though bad guy Jerry Katz is suitably menacing and Dave Bautista is also good as Van Dam's buddy roped into helping him fight bad guys. He just isn't in it enough. Rob Van dam is a likable hero and there are various appearances from other wrestlers and folks from the rap world. Not as much fun as it could have been but a watchable wrestling themed action flick nonetheless.